By Timothy Ryan McGuire
Manners are fun. They are little codes that are indistinct in origin and are not general to any wide geographic location. I read one time that the Japanese are so oriented to “returning the favor” that it is rude to do a favor for a stranger. Example: Mr. Fujiwara’s hat blows off in the weather, I pluck it out of the air from an almost certain descent into, say, an abyss of some sort, and poof, poor Mr. Fujiwara is in my debt and may never have the chance to repay. This, as it turns out is not a “fun” code of manners, yet there are some good ones in the USA and Britain that are lots of fun to observe.
I was fond of reading a particular book about cowboys when I was small. This particular text regaled me page after page with the cowboy way. One of the cowboy ways is, “even if you are rich, it is not polite to make a woman sick in a stagecoach with your stinky brand of cigar.” As the situation heightened in tension, I waited desperately for the heroism I was bound to see by the cowboy in the stagecoach. Of course I was not disappointed. After asking the fine gent a couple times to toss out his tobacco, the big-hearted bronco-buster ejected both the cigar and its owner from the aperture of the bumpy coach.
Needless to say, I wriggled in delight when this outcome developed. What could be better than a wrangler taking care of manly Clint Eastwood-business out on the range? The woman was most grateful and the driver determined that the uncouth lounge lizard would do well to walk to his destination.
It is a beautiful thing to live in harmony with our neighbors. The best way to determine how polite, in general, a city is is to ride the public transportation. Is it dirty? graffiti ridden? unused? I love the metro in Rome. One time I put my foot on an opposite seat while I was reading a book. A sixty-something Roman rather curtly requested that shoes be placed where shoes belong. After recovering my pride and replacing my shoe, I reveled in the concept that someone cared enough to tell me not to put shoes on seats. I was part of a city where there was someone with a standard that he expected others to follow. I was thrilled. I wanted to put my shoes up everyday to find out if there were more like this old crank, but his warning echoed so loudly in my conscience that I was unable to violate that sacred space even for such a worthwhile social experiment.
So, on behalf of my fellow-hard-working American, Lillian Ortiz, I would personally like to toss off any Jersey subway anyone who disturbs her ride home unnecessarily. I would like the offender to land in a dusty cactus and have to walk all the way to town pulling out cactus spines as he goes. Close quarters call for manners more than any other place. Good Americans do not need a sign to tell them not to leave their coffee cup on the metro when there is a trash at every stop, good Americans in a hurry still have the time to excuse their rush through the train doors, good Americans also respect sleeping Americans and treat them with the dignity that women like Lillian deserve. Now, to the gent on the phone, “I am glad you won, I really am, but Lillian is not so glad to hear it at shouting volume every five minutes on the phone.” Lillian, don’t be afraid to tell someone to cool it on the ride home from work, because all the good Americans out there have got your back on this one.